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A little more than a month after the Broardsfield Colliery disaster at Fenton, when nine men lost their lives due to a firedamp explosion, another terrible accident was recorded at a pit owned by the same company and only about two or three hundred yards from where the previous accident took place.
Knowls Pit

The loss of life was not as great as the previous one but the calamity was of a most frightful character with the horrible mutilation of the bodies of the unfortunate sufferers. The accident took place at 6 am on Wednesday morning and was caused by the breaking of machinery in consequence of which four individuals were killed on the spot.

It seemed that at the colliery in question, two pits were worked by one engine, and it was the practice of the men at this pit, as well as the other collieries, though forbidden by the proprietors, to descend one shaft while a load of coals was ascending the other shaft. This was done to save time. Should anything happen to the machinery, the men ran a much greater risk of injury than if there were less weight to counter-balance them in the opposite pit and particularly where there was a dip chain drawing up the shaft at the same time as there was in the present instance.

On this occasion the men in one of the pits called "The Ash Pit" descended at 5.30 am on Wednesday, fifteen men had prepared to descend the adjoining Knowls Pit. Two corf loads of these latter men having descended, the remaining four men got into the chain tackle about 6.am and were descending the shaft which was 120 yards deep, whilst a corf of coals, probably about 12 or 14 cwt, was ascending the opposite shaft which was more than a hundred yards deeper than the other.

The men were about 15 yards from the bottom, when the spur wheel, belonging to the drum shaft connected to the engine, broke from the centre into a number of pieces, in consequence of which the engine was immediately stopped by the engine tender, and was in fact rendered ineffective.

The drum shaft immediately reversed its motion, and the corf of coals, which was 60 yards from the top of the pit, descended, and the four men were drawn up the other shaft with fearful rapidity to the pulley over the pit, and thrown out of the chain tackle a considerable height into the air. Three of the unfortunate sufferers were hurled over the drum shaft, and one of them fell a distance of 47 yards from the mouth of the pit, another 44 yards and the third 42 yards. The forth was pitched in a contrary direction, about 20 yards.

The three men thrown the greatest distance were frightfully mangled and dismembered. Portions of their brains were scattered about whilst several legs and thighs lay in different places. Part of the head of one was severed from the body. The forth man was the only one who showed any sign of vitality and he being the least bruised, breathed several times but he never spoke. The dreadful mutilation of the bodies was caused of course by their coming up with such amazing force in contact with the iron pulley over the pit. The remains of the men were collected as soon as possible and conveyed to their respective homes.

The engine being disabled from working, the men in the pits were drawn up by horsepower.

The names of the unfortunate sufferers were:-

  • Richard Boden, overlooker, from Longton age 50yrs left a wife and family chiefly grown up.
  • Francis Malton, from Longton, age 22 yrs, a single man.
  • Richard Dawson, from Longton, age 37 yrs a widower left two children.
  • James Roberts, from Fenton, age 30 yrs, left a wife and three children.

An inquest on the bodies was held at the Old Three Crowns public house Fenton, on Thursday afternoon, before W. Jarding Esq. and a respectable jury of whom Mr.Thomas Cope was foreman. The first witness examined was Mr. Joseph Amison; of Longton he was the engine tender. The engine was of 16-horse power and worked two pits. He commenced letting the men down the Ash Pit at about 5.30 am Wednesday morning. Shortly before 6 am. Richard Boden, one of the deceased, who was the Overlooker at the Knowls Pit, which was the one adjoining on the same colliery, called to him for the purpose of going down with others.

The four deceased individuals got into the chain tackle, and they began to descend the shaft. A loaded corf of coals having being hooked on at the Ash Pit, was ascending the shaft at the same time, whilst another load was being drawn up the dip. The witness was in his proper place attending to the engine, when he heard the noise of machinery breaking, upon which he stopped the engine, but the drum continued to go round, and there was a great rattling of chains. He was afraid of being hit with something and got into one corner of the engine house.

Soon afterwards on going out he saw either a man's leg or arm lying on the bank, and beyond the drum he saw three bodies on the ground but he did not know any one of them. On examining the machinery he, discovered that the spur wheel on the drum shaft, which is connected with the engine, was broken. He believed there were eight arm spokes in the wheel and they were all broken. He had worked at the same colliery for 8 or 9 years, and it was customary to draw the coals up the shaft and dip at the same time. At the time of the accident, the load coming up the dip was about 16 yards from the bottom of the shaft. The witnesses had not observed that the engine or any part of the machinery was out of repair prior to the accident.

Chas. Dutton inspects the engines for the company and had inspected this one about three months ago. He was convinced the engine was in good repair and he could not tell the cause of the accident.

He immediately informed Mr. Barton, the agent for the colliery of the disaster who went to get assistance to get all the men who were at work out of the pit. Mr. William Hackerly, a banksman at the colliery was going to work about 5.15 am that morning. The deceased men came about 5.30 am but did not go down the Knowls' Pit till about 6 am. When they were descending he heard a crash and the deceased were drawn up the shaft again with great rapidity to the top of the pulley over the pit mouth and thrown with considerable force out of the tackle.

Francis Malbon was thrown out first and fell about 20 yards from the pit, the witness went up to him and saw him breath two or three times, but he never spoke. The other three men were thrown in the opposite direction.
The body of James Roberts lay 47 yards from the shaft, that of Richard Bowden 44 yards and that of Richard Dawson 42 yards. The men were much mangled and quite dead.

The men had been frequently cautioned by the Butties, of going down one shaft when coal was being drawn up the other. Richard Bowden, the Butty, urged the men that morning to descend. Charles Dutton, who inspects the engines was at the colliery last week and was heard to say in a conversation with Amison, the last witness, about doing something with the flywheel next week. The witness Amison was recalled, when he stated that he recollected Charles Dutton talking to him about putting some segments in on the fly-wheel next week.

Mr. H. Davies, the surgeon, having inspected the bodies of the deceased, described to the jury the principal injuries they had received.
Three of the unfortunate men were mutilated in so dreadful a manner that the description would be painful to the surviving relatives, and revolting to the feelings of the readers.

After hearing the evidence the jury returned a verdict of "accidental death in all the cases and laid a deoland on the engine. (Deoland: meaning in English law, anything which has been an unintentional cause of human death.) This law was abolished in 1846.
The coroner and jury said throughout this painful investigation, the utmost anxiety to ascertain whether the calamity rose from any other cause than that of accident, coupled with want of due care on the part of the unfortunate men themselves but nothing was elicited to throw blame on any other parties.



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